Tuesday, May 18, 2010

That Sinking Feeling - A Sermon

Happy Ascension Sunday. Ascension was actually on Thursday, but how many of you remembered to celebrate it? That's what I thought. Ascension used to be a big Feast Day in the Church. Don’t tell your kids, but people used to get out of school in order to celebrate it. It was Christmas and Easter big.

No more.

Why? Well, Jesus ascending just doesn’t have the same punch that birth and resurrection have. Not even the same as Pentecost. With those three, someone’s arriving. Jesus is born. Jesus comes back from the dead. The Holy Spirit arrives. Yea!

But with the Ascension, Jesus goes away. What’s to celebrate?

This is probably truer than we might think. Because here we have the disciples who had thought they’d lost Jesus at his crucifixion, only to get him back and breathe a sigh of relief. Now they’ve had him for forty days, and it just might have started feeling like it did before all that unpleasantness in Jerusalem. The disciples might just be thinking, “Ah, we can get back to the way things were.”

Then he leaves. Again.

And with Luke’s dramatic images of the ascension – rising up in a cloud – it’d be hard for anyone to imagine he’s coming back.

So, the Ascension did not bring them up to the pinnacles of joy. Rather, it had to leave the disciples with a sinking feeling. As in, “Now, we’re really alone.”

Granted, Jesus left them with a promise. In the Gospel, it’s a little vague, but in Acts, he says clearly they will receive the power of the Holy Spirit. But do they understand what that means? Do we? They will just have to wait.

I hate waiting.

More than that, I hate feeling alone and confused, like I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Like them, I would probably have preferred for Jesus to stay. And at the same time felt angry with him for not staying, for ruining that wonderful reunion they’d had, and the return to old times.

But Jesus knew better. He knew they needed him to leave so they could take wing, as it were. He knew they could not become the church until they found their own way.

Fortunately for them, Jesus left them with two things – or at least Luke left US with two things. One is the promise of the Holy Spirit’s power. They could not understand the significance of that, but they did trust Jesus enough to wait.

The other thing that Luke left us was a subtle hint at what the disciples could do while they were waiting. They could go back to the beginning, review Jesus’ ministry and see what they could learn. Jesus left them at the temple in Jerusalem. He also began his ministry in a temple – reading from the prophet Isaiah. The very beginning of his ministry began with these words:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

As they waited to see what sort of power Jesus would send them, they needed these ten days to ponder what that would look like. And if, as Luke suggests by bringing us full circle, they remember theirs is to proclaim good news and release and recovery and freedom, then the power of Pentecost would be good power indeed.

Sadly, the church has often abused its power.

You can think how: forced conversions, pogroms, religious wars, religious executions, oppression of minorities, ostracizing those who sin, abuse of the vulnerable. It goes on.

Perhaps that’s because we forgot what the disciples had time to remember – we are not here to create a powerful church but to employ the gift of God’s power to share God’s love. To bring good news to the poor, release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed. Perhaps, from time to time, we need to remind ourselves that THAT’S who we are to be. And only then will we be ready for the power of Pentecost.

Let us, then, sink with the disciples, just a bit – for maybe 10 days or so – in order to remember what it is that we are to rise toward. Amen.